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  • Writer's pictureLee Hamilton

Working Backwards

Starting a screenplay can be intimidating. You may have a handful of great ideas for an interesting character, scenario, or problem, but when faced with filling the gaps in between the beginning and the end, even experienced writers can begin to flounder.

The obvious place to start would be from the beginning, right? Especially if you’re a writer who isn’t a fan of outlining and likes to see where the characters take you on their own. Writing a screenplay chronologically, scene, by scene, makes sense: after all, you can’t write the second scene unless you know what happens in the first, right?

The risk that comes with this method is that if you start a script with no clear idea of where it’s going to lead, you may end up with a conclusion that doesn’t quite deliver on the setup.

For an ending to have the most impact, everything that’s happened beforehand needs to have somehow contributed to that final moment, but if your story ends somewhere you’d never considered at the start, then you may have missed lots of opportunities to foreshadow events, complete character arcs, or plant setups and payoffs along the way.

“Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle” is the 7th Golden Rule in Pixar’s Rules for Great Storytelling; and if Pixar is promoting this method, you know there’s got to be some value to it.

But what are the benefits of knowing how your story ends before you begin? And won’t knowing the ending just take all the fun out of it?


Character Arc: If you know where you want your protagonist’s character development to end, you’ll be able to better establish how it should begin. If your protagonist is going to end up sacrificing themselves to save others, then introducing them as selfish and unsympathetic at the beginning is going to help magnify this transformation. Knowing the endpoint will also allow you to figure out all of the small life lessons a character needs to learn to reach that point too.

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